Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Plain Dealer showing bias in news report of proposed amendment [We know that's not a real attention grabbing headline…]

Today’s Plain Dealer carries an article with the headline that “10% of Ohio's judges will be forced to retire in next 6 years if Issue 1 fails this fall”.

The Plain Dealer’s lack of objectivity in what should be a straightforward news account about a proposed constitutional change on this November’s ballot calls to mind Luke 16:10, the favorite scriptural verse of my good Jehovah Witness friend.

“He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much; and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.”

If slanted headlines and thinly veiled arguments are going to be the norm in discussing what is hardly an urgent or major issue, what level of trust can we have that our daily paper is going to present the facts about the much more important and urgent issues  — SB 5 or the federal healthcare reform — that will accompany this constitutional issue on Ohio's ballot come November 8?
• • •
As to the substance of what will be Issue 1 on the statewide ballot this fall, the proposed Constitutional amendment raising the mandatory retirement age of judges to 82 seems a solution in search of a problem.

A judge who performs well up until her constitutionally mandated retirement can continue to serve almost as fully by virtue of judicial appointments.

The proponents of constitutional change cite the late George M. McMonagle as Exhibit A. I knew George McMonagle. He was a fine judge well up into his latter years. What the slanted PD piece fails to admit is that McMonagle was able to continue serving because his colleagues regularly appointed him as a visiting judge. Had the judge shown diminished capacity at any point, those appointments could have stopped instanter, as judges like to say, leaving neither litigants, attorneys, or the public to endure his jurisdiction until his term expired.

Ohio is suffering no shortage of competent lawyers who aspire to be judges. We also have some sitting judges who have never been bench-worthy, notwithstanding their having been elected at thirty-, forty-, fifty- or sixty-something. Age is but one criterion in determining suitability for judicial office.

The current constitutional prohibition that precludes running for re-election past age 65 could be seen as providing a safeguard against judicial ossification. Should we have an octogenarian jurist ruling on business matters who has no appreciation of email correspondence, or social media, or the latest in other technologies? Will he comprehend cyberbullying?

A modest extension that permitted judges to serve until age 73 or 74 might have been worthy of consideration. But the proposed amendment is too drastic a change to meet a need that does not exist. 

And the web and blogs like The Real Deal notwithstanding, the Plain Dealer remains too important a part of our local public conversation to stain its news accounts with partisan hubris.